Health Care

USA Today: Veteran died after KC VA police officer injured him during traffic stop

Dale Farhner of Kingston, Mo., died in May after a confrontation with Kansas City VA Medical Center police.
Dale Farhner of Kingston, Mo., died in May after a confrontation with Kansas City VA Medical Center police.

A 66-year-old military veteran died after he was injured by a Kansas City VA Medical Center police officer when a routine traffic stop went wrong in May, according to USA Today.

VA officials, citing an ongoing investigation, have refused for six months to release to The Star information about the death of Kingston, Mo., resident Dale Farhner.

But an internal report leaked to USA Today says Farhner suffered gashes to his face and scalp after he was pulled to the ground by the police officer. He later died of a brain hemorrhage at University of Kansas Hospital.

“While being brought to the ground, the patient seemed to suffer some injuries,” USA Today quoted the report as saying. “Upon arrival to the Emergency Department the patient was non-verbal, moaning with a decreased level of consciousness.”

The internal report doesn’t make any determination about whether Farhner died of injuries suffered during the confrontation.

Kathleen Fogarty, the director of the Kansas City VA Medical Center, was in a meeting and unavailable Friday afternoon, her receptionist said. Seth LaBean, her executive assistant, said via email that the medical center “cannot provide comment on open investigations.”

USA Today had published a story on Thursday saying the VA police force nationwide is mismanaged.

According USA Today’s follow-up story, Farhner and his son were leaving the medical center May 10.

Farhner was driving the wrong way on a VA driveway and was pulled over by an unnamed VA police officer. USA Today quotes the internal VA report as saying that Farhner “began making inappropriate gestures and physically threatening motions with his arm.”

The report also says the officer saw a “large bulge” near Farhner’s waist that was later determined to be due to a recent hernia surgery.

The officer decided to detain Farhner, then after Farhner “struggled,” the officer reportedly brought him to the ground and handcuffed him.

An injured Farhner was then taken inside the hospital, where a CT scan showed bleeding around his brain. He was transferred to KU Hospital, where further tests revealed “several areas of bleeding in his brain, and a scan of his neck showed a blockage in an artery that could have caused a stroke,” according to USA Today.

The Jackson County Medical Examiner, which performed Farhner’s autopsy, has declined to comment to The Star repeatedly on his cause of death, citing the open investigation.

Marshanna Hester, the office’s spokeswoman, declined to comment on the same grounds again Friday.

The Star received an anonymous tip about Farhner’s death in May and filed a Freedom of Information Act request that month to find out what happened.

The VA responded on July 7 with an emailed letter saying it had identified “nine documents totaling 18 pages of written records, and one video, and one audio recording” relevant to the request.

But VA records manager Laura Hughes wrote that she was withholding all of it “based on the open/pending status of the Veterans Health Administration Office of Security & Law Enforcement review.”

“Due to the open/pending status the documents are pre-decisional to VHA’s findings and decision regarding this incident,” Hughes said. “Based upon the information available to me I believe release of the records could potentially impair the deliberative process as release of the pre-decisional document to the public would likely negatively impact a frank discussion on matters of policy between subordinates and supervisors.”

After several more denials over the course of months, The Star published a story this week about U.S. Sens. Claire McCaskill and Roy Blunt seeking answers about Farhner’s death from VA Secretary Robert Wilkie.

“We certainly appreciate the requirements of an investigation, but hope that after over six months some initial information can be forthcoming,” their joint letter to Wilkie says. “The health and well-being of our veterans have been among our highest shared priorities in Congress. Please release any information that can be made public regarding Mr. Farhner, and if not, please explain the reasons why.”

Blunt said via email Friday that after 10 days he and McCaskill have yet to hear back from Wilkie.

“It is totally unacceptable for the VA not to be responsive in any way,” Blunt said. “These details are very concerning and I will continue to insist on answers.”

On Wednesday The Star received an email from Connie Farhner Kilgore, who identified herself as Farhner’s sister, and thanked The Star for running the story.

She declined to answer questions in follow-up emails, writing back only “A lawyer is handling this.”

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Kansas City Star health reporter Andy Marso was part of a Pulitzer Prize-finalist team at The Star and previously won state and regional awards at the Topeka Capital-Journal and Kansas Health Institute News Service. He has written two books, including one about his near-fatal bout with meningitis.

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